Aerospatiale / BAC Concorde is a supersonic airliner developed jointly by the French Aerospatiale and British BAC in the 1960s. He was a competitor to the Soviet supersonic airliner Tu-144. In fact, in the entire history of aviation, only these two aircraft have been operated on supersonic commercial flights.
The history of post-war civil aviation around the world, especially the 1950-1960s, was full of events. In the first years after the war, it became clear that piston planes had reached their limits and there was practically nowhere to develop them. But, at this time, the rise of new technology began, which was destined to conquer the sky. Jet military aircraft appeared in the fleets of airpower and very quickly proved their, almost absolute superiority over old machines. Following the military jet aircraft, the time has come for civil. In 1949, he made the first flight of De Havilland Comet. The first-ever commercial jet airliner was a real revolution. Despite many problems and accidents, he proved that the future lies with jet aircraft and, of course, its most important advantage was speed: at cruising speeds of up to 840 km / h it was a third faster than piston counterparts (Lockheed Constellation cruising speed is about 550 km / h).
Over the next few years, their jet airliners appeared in other countries: Tu-104, Boeing 707, DC-8, Sud Caravelle, and so on. New liners replaced the old ones, becoming more reliable, more comfortable, and faster. Speed remained the main trend: aircraft manufacturers tried to maximize these characteristics and, if the first airliners flew at speeds of about 800 km / h, then the next generation went for 900 km / h, and some planes even approached indicators under 1000 km / h (cruising speed Convair 880 reached 990 km / h). This was a matter of prestige for manufacturers and airlines, and from an economic point of view, high speeds meant more flights on fewer planes. This concept was at that time the main competitor of the concept of increasing the size of liners (which, later, gave rise to wide-body liners and, as the practice has shown, won). But speeds close to 1000 km / h were the limit of what classic jet aircraft could afford. To overcome this milestone it was necessary to make a revolution.
On October 14, 1947, the experimental Bell X-1 aircraft, during a test flight at maximum speed, crossed the sound barrier for the first time in history. The supersonic era has begun. In the early 1950s, the first production supersonic F-100 Super Saber and MiG-19 fighters took to the sky, and soon, Dassault Super Mystère, the first European in the class, joined them. Technology and the entire industry developed at a frantic pace and supersonic became an option not only for light fighters but also for bombers. In the late 1950s, the world saw the first representatives of this breed – the B-58 Hustler and Tu-22 bombers.
By this time, a new topic had become obvious: since technology allows you to create supersonic bombers, it means that perhaps they can already open the doors of supersonic commercial aircraft. Having speeds close to the speeds of military aircraft, these airliners will be able to deliver passengers significantly (potentially – multiple) faster than their subsonic versions. This was enough to interest all industry leaders.
The first research on the topic of supersonic passenger aircraft began in the mid-1950s. At this time, a special committee was created in the UK, which was supposed to study the issue of the prospects of creating such aircraft. Despite the enormous opportunities, the creation of such an aircraft required overcoming several very serious challenges. The supersonic warplanes existing at that time had a thin and short wing with a large sweep, powerful engines, and, at the same time, were not reliable enough and very demanding. But, if this was permissible in military aviation, then the supersonic sound for a civilian airliner meant that to ensure the necessary passenger capacity and fuel capacity for long-haul flights, the aircraft would be huge, which would require incredibly powerful engines to bring all this to the required speeds, and even if it’s possible to do so, flying such an aircraft at low speeds will be almost impossible, which means that take-off and landing speeds will be huge, but airports did not have such long strips. The first conclusion was that the creation of such an aircraft is too complicated and impractical.
However, in parallel with this work, active research in the field of supersonic aerodynamics continued. One of the important breakthroughs was the creation of a thin deltoid wing (slender delta concept). Such a scheme made it possible to ensure high speeds, excellent maneuverability, and, at the same time, sufficiently high reliability of the design. It spread quite quickly in military aviation (the same B-58 has a deltoid wing). Also, the deltoid wing had a sufficiently large area, which could greatly help in improving the quality of flight at low speeds – without solving this problem, creating a supersonic airliner was pointless.
Also, active research showed that the effectiveness of such a wing increases if its area is not increased by increasing the scope, but by changing the shape – by stretching the wing along the fuselage. Such a scheme still provided good supersonic characteristics, but also allowed the aircraft to fly not bad at low speeds. The only caveat was that flying at low speeds implied a rather large angle of attack, which means that you have to take off and land with a pretty bulging nose. However, theoretically, an airplane with such a wing was already quite feasible.
A new committee (Supersonic Transport Advisory Committee – STAC) was formed, which was to consider the project with new assumptions. In 1956, the committee decided to test new developments in practice, for which the Handley Page HP.115 flying laboratory was created. The plane had to prove that having such a wing, it is possible to maintain a controlled flight at sufficiently low speeds. He proved this: the aircraft supported flights at a minimum speed of about 111 km / h, while other swept aircraft began to fall at speeds 2-3 times higher (the minimum permissible speed of the F-104 Starfighter reached 300 km / h). The tests were considered successful, and the committee said that the creation of supersonic airliners is quite possible.
A recommendation was made on the creation of two aircraft: a larger 150-seater for transatlantic flights, capable of flying at speeds of about 2 Mach, and a reduced 100-seater option for regional transportation at a speed of about 1.2 Mach. The cars were supposed to appear by 1970 and were supposed to become a new milestone in the aircraft industry. The British, who created the first jetliner, now wanted to create the first supersonic. The project involved the company Bristol and Hawker Siddeley, while both companies were looking for partners abroad, in the United States and France.
France at this time conducted its research. In the late 1950s, based on their results, as well as thanks to the achievements of the British under the new wing scheme, work was launched to create a supersonic aircraft. All the largest companies were engaged in it: Sud Aviation, Nord Aviation, and Dassault. The winner of the government tender was the Sud Aviation Super-Caravelle project. It was a small 70-seater aircraft capable of flying at speeds of about 2 Machs over distances of up to 3,000 kilometers. Unlike the British, who decided to capture a large part of the market for supersonic airliners, the French relied on a smaller plane, not wanting to get into a confrontation with American projects of transatlantic supersonic airliners.
However, over time, the design teams on both sides of the English Channel realized that they could not do without a partnership. Also, after the start of negotiations, it turned out that the British and French are creating practically the same aircraft. Besides, the partnership was very profitable: the British lacked resources, and the French lacked technology, especially in engine building. They argued only about the size of the aircraft and its range. London wanted to create a 150-seat transatlantic liner and Paris a smaller plane. But they wanted to solve the problem through unification and to work out 2 options: a 4-engine aircraft with a shortened fuselage and a 6-engine aircraft with an elongated one, only the wing had to be seriously reconstructed.
An agreement on cooperation between the countries on the creation of the liner was signed at the end of 1962. The word Concorde was chosen as the name of the project, which is both French and English means “consent”. Although there were disputes. The fact is that in English this word is spelled Concord and in French Concorde. Having agreed on all the issues, politicians argued for a long time about the letter “e” in the end.
Even though the future Concorde in the aviation industry was perceived as a revolution and a future icon of the aircraft industry, it was rather difficult to find customers for it. At this stage, it was decided to abandon the reduced version of the aircraft – there was no demand for it at all. The consortium focused on creating and promoting an older version with a capacity of about 100-120 passengers flying at a distance of 6000 km.
Nevertheless, market research showed that the new consortium could deliver about 350 aircraft until 1980, given that the American competitor was behind schedule and should have appeared already in European exploitation, and the Soviet airliner could hardly begin to be delivered to Western markets.
Complicating sales was the ever-increasing cost of the project and the aircraft itself. From the start of the project until the start of deliveries, the cost of the aircraft increased many times, reaching $ 180 million in 1977 (in 2016 prices).
The pressure on the aircraft, and generally on the concept of supersonic passenger traffic, increased even more after the publication of the results of test flights of supersonic aircraft over settlements near the city of Oklahoma, the USA in 1964. As part of the test of the impact of the sonic boom on supersound, the prototype XB-70 flew. As it turned out, a sonic boom brought serious inconvenience to the population, broke the glass, and destroyed structures. Altitude did not solve the problem; aircraft in flights reached ceilings of up to 23 km – significantly higher than the flight altitudes of civilian supersonic aircraft. This caused heated debate among experts and politicians, which could potentially limit demand.
Nevertheless, the consortium managed to form a portfolio of orders for 100 aircraft from 18 airlines, and BOAC, Air France, and Pan Am were to become launching operators.
The Concord has a glider made according to the tailless model with a deltoid-shaped wing of complex shape with an influx (ogival wing). The wing of such a scheme can significantly reduce the minimum flight speed for aircraft of this design: the standard Concorde landing speed was 270-300 km / h, and the required runway length when fully loaded is 3.6 km.
Ultrasonic flights led to rather significant changes in the temperature of the structure: the temperature of the airframe decreased during the rise to a height, and then heated to 127 ° C. At the same time, the length of the fuselage, due to thermal deformation, increased by 30 cm. To compensate for such overloads, the design received a backlash that allows changing the dimensions within the specified limits.
To save weight for the aircraft, a special aluminum alloy was developed that can withstand high loads and temperatures of supersonic flights while being light enough. Steel, titanium, and nickel alloys are also used to a limited extent in the design.
The aircraft fuselage is not round in cross-section but has an oval shape with expansion in the passenger compartment area. The maximum fuselage width is 2.90 m, the cabin width is 2.62 m. The maximum cabin capacity was 128 seats, but this configuration of one economy class has never been used due to the high cost of transportation. The liners received business class salons for 92-108 seats. The layout is standard for salons of this width: 4 seats in a row according to the 2 + 2 scheme. A feature of the cabin also became a large information board showing the speed and altitude.
Also, in the process of creating and launching liners on the line, the public raised questions regarding the risks of radiation exposure on passengers, given that the liners will fly at altitudes of about 18 km. However, the greater impact of the radio was offset by a decrease in the duration of the flight itself. In the case of increased radiation, for example, during increased solar activity, the aircraft was equipped with sensors. In the case of increased radiation, the pilots were instructed to reduce speed and descend to a height of 14 km.
The question of what kind of power plant and in what configuration should be installed on the plane has been decided since 1960 at fairly large-scale conferences. For a long time, it was decided to install the engines inside the airframe or to place them in the engine nacelles. After the decision to place the engines in the nacelles, the question arose: in pairs or separately. Besides, it did not immediately become clear how many engines should be – initially it was planned to deliver 6 at once, but further studies showed that four would be enough.
In the end, the aircraft received four Rolls-Royce / SNECMA Olympus engines – a deep modification of the military versions of the Olympus mounted on the British Avro Vulcan and BAC TSR-2 bombers. The engines were located in pairs in two engine nacelles installed under the wing.
This power plant had many features, including very breakthrough ones. She received the adjustable air intakes of each engine of a rather complex design. The engines received an electronic traction control system – the forerunner of modern FADEC systems.
Engines, of course, had afterburners. However, the peculiarity of their traction was that they had very large traction in afterburner mode, and afterburner added only about 18% of thrust (140 kN without afterburner and 169 kN at maximum afterburner). The Fast and the Furious Concorde was used during take-off and when overcoming the sound barrier. In the flight itself, the aircraft managed to maintain a supersonic cruising speed of Mach 2 in the afterburner mode. This made it possible to maintain average fuel consumption of about 22 tons/hour, which was an outstanding indicator for a supersonic aircraft of this size and mass. Ironically, these engines remained voracious on low traction, according to statistics, Concordes burned about 2% of the fuel supply even when moving around the airport before takeoffs and after landing.
To reduce mileage during landing, the engines received reverse mechanisms capable of creating reverse thrust up to 40% of the direct one. Nozzles are equipped with several additional elements designed to reduce engine noise on the ground. Reducing the noise level of engines in the cabin (this was a problem of ensuring comfort in the Tu-144) was ensured mainly because the engine nacelles were placed under the wing at a certain distance from the fuselage.
The fuel system of the aircraft was very complex. She received 17 tanks with a total capacity of about 120 tons, located in the wing and the lower part of the fuselage. Its feature was the presence of an additional tank in the rear of the fuselage and the function of balancing fuel to control the center of mass of the aircraft. Also, fuel was used as a coolant to remove excess heat from heating systems.
The aircraft did not have an auxiliary power unit, as this complicated the design and made the aircraft heavier. In operation, this was not critical, since aircraft of this class were very demanding on-ground infrastructure and the airports capable of receiving them were always equipped with the necessary ground equipment.
The chassis is a three-post, classic design. However, because during takeoff and landing the aircraft supports a rather large angle of attack, to avoid touching the strip with its tail, the aircraft was equipped with very high landing gears – about 3.5 m.
The brake in the chassis received the world’s first electronic control system, as well as cooled carbon-fiber brake discs.
Due to the requirements to reduce the drag of the liner and the peculiarities of flying at low speeds, the nose of the aircraft was also unique. The bow was in the shape of a sharp cone, however, to ensure visual control by the crew it was made redundant. The nose had several modes of operation, from completely direct for supersonic flights, to 12.5 degrees down when taking off and landing, while taxiing the nose was lowered by 5 degrees. In the elevated mode, the frontal glazing was closed with additional glazing, providing minimal visibility, while the aerodynamic purity of the nose of the aircraft, as well as withstanding heat up to 100 degrees during supersonic flight.
Avionics Concord at the time of the creation of the liner was very advanced. Mechanical control of the aircraft had additional electronic control, which became, in fact, the forerunner of fly-by-wire control systems. Thanks to the very advanced avionics and the latest cockpit equipment, only 3 crew members (2 pilots and flight engineer) managed the plane.
Start of production and testing
The assembly of the prototypes began in 1965 at factories in Toulouse and Bristol. Concorde made its first test flight at the Toulouse airfield on March 2, 1969, and on October 1 for the first time overcame the sound barrier. In parallel, a prototype of the British assembly began to fly. Both aircraft were first presented at the Paris Air Show in the summer of 1969. By 1971, aircraft began to carry out tests and demonstration flights over long distances, including flights through the Atlantic, the Middle East, and Asia. Also, at the 1971 Paris Air Show, Concord first met with his Soviet brother Tu-144.
Aircraft was originally developed for flights on long-haul flights, primarily through the Atlantic Ocean. As it turned out, the prototypes though solved this problem, but it was quite complicated for them and required special flight conditions. Further adjustments improved the quality of the airframe, increased fuel capacity, and engine efficiency.
The plane was unique and impressed with its capabilities. While a standard flight from Paris to New York took about 8 hours, Concord reached his destination in 3.5 hours. Besides, thanks to the high speed and flight altitude of about 18 km, he did not need to coordinate the route with other flights – no one flew at these heights except Concord.
However, airplane demonstrations and flights to air shows played a cruel joke with the Concordes. Many potential operators, specialists, and ordinary people quickly noticed the problems of very noisy take-offs and landings, sound impact, and environmental pollution, especially the ozone layer. Also, the Tu-144 crash during a demonstration flight at the Paris Air Show in 1973 raised concerns that the planes were unreliable, and this concerned not only the Soviet airliner but also this class in general, that is, the Concord too. All these factors greatly reduced the demand for liners even before the start of their serial deliveries.
This state of affairs was a shock to many experts from the camp of supporters of supersonic transport. Back in the mid-1960s, it was believed that supersonic would conquer passenger traffic. Even Boeing, creating the 747 models, initially relied more on its cargo options, making the main passenger bet on the 2707 model. But now everything has changed.
There were few restrictions on operation and flights in areas of settlements, so in the 1970s an energy crisis erupted, which spurred oil prices, which means fuel prices. Ultrasonic aircraft were good, but their commercial operation was on the verge of zero profitability.
At the same time, with the increasing share of fuel in airline costs, the superiority of wide-body aircraft increased: Concord’s fuel consumption per passenger was almost three times higher than that of the Boeing 747, and, with the advent of three-engine and twin-engine trunk liners, this ratio is for a supersonic airliner it got worse.
As a result, the decline of the supersonic era of air travel began at the stage of its rise. The Boeing 2707 project turned out to be so complicated and expensive that, taking into account the new realities, they decided to roll it back in 1971.
In fact, by 1976, only two airlines were expecting Concordes: Air France and British Airways. These airlines bought 9 aircraft. The consortium, having built 14 serial machines, could not find buyers for the remaining 5 and offered them to the same operators. At the same time, both airlines agreed to take the planes, in fact, for free, paying 1 pound and 1 franc, respectively, but pledging to operate these aircraft. There were 7 aircraft in the parks on either side of the English Channel.
Commercial operation began in early 1976. Airplanes flew from London to Bahrain and from Paris to Dakar. Flights to the United States were hampered by significant resistance from local politicians and public organizations, but by 1977, Concordes began flying to Washington and New York. Despite the presence of periodic flights to different cities in North and South America and Asia, routes from two European capitals to New York became the main for the liners.
Given the uniqueness and specificity of the liners, the economy of their operation was also very specific and, often, was a problem for operators. First of all, the Concordes were very expensive for airlines. Concord’s flight hour cost almost the same price as the Boeing 747’s flight hour, given that the 747th accommodated almost three times as many passengers.
This was compensated, of course, due to the very high prices for airline tickets. Flying Concord has become a unique experience and luxury for the wealthy. Traveling from New York to London could cost up to $ 8,000 – many times more expensive than the business class of any other aircraft. And the planes found such a demand – such flights were very popular despite the cost. Air France and British Airways positioned Concordes as the flagships of the parks, selected the best crews for them, and the level of service was as high as possible. Pilots even showed a certain arrogance in front of their colleagues, boasting that they looked down on how they were weaving somewhere below. In this case, taking into account twice the flight speeds and altitudes, on average, 6-7 kilometers higher than the basic levels, these comments can be considered literal.
Besides, Concord records were impressive. In the process of exploitation in 1985, during a charter flight from London to Sydney, the plane flew half the globe in 17 hours and 45 minutes, taking into account several landings for refueling. And in 1996, another airliner made a record-breaking flight: after flying out of London, it landed in New York after 2 hours 52 minutes.
In addition to regular flights, Concordes performed many special flights, advertising tours and charter flights. Several times the aircraft was leased to Braniff International and Singapore Airlines, but there they operated for a fairly short period.
Completion of operation
Despite the popularity and important status of aircraft, their commercial operation was very difficult and practically did not bring profit. Also, with the passage of time and the emergence of new, more, and more efficient airliners, Concords by the beginning of the 21st century had become completely uncompetitive. Despite all the modernization and efforts, the sunset was already close.
However, the Air France Concorde plane crash in 2000 put an end to the flights. The Paris-New York airliner suffered damage on take-off, caught fire, and fell near the airport. Killed 109 people on board and another 4 people who were in the building on which the liner fell.
Flights were immediately suspended. Airlines upgraded the liners to avoid a recurrence of such a tragedy. But, even after all issues were resolved, in 2002 and 2003 several incidents finally convinced the airline that Concorde’s time had passed.
In the spring of 2003, British Airways and Air France announced the completion of the operation of the airliners. On November 26, 2003, the BA liner took off from Heathrow and arrived in Bristol. Concords no longer flew. The remaining ships were transferred mainly to museums around the world. In 2015, groups of enthusiasts made plans to return the Concord to flights on an initiative basis, but planes devoid of service infrastructure and spare parts are no longer suitable for operation.
- Type: Supersonic Main Passenger Aircraft
- Powerplant: Rolls-Royce / Snecma Olympus 593
- Engine thrust: 4 X 140 kN (14.27 ts) without afterburner
- 4 X 169 kN (17.23 ts) afterburner
- Maximum number of passengers: 92-108 (1st class business) 120 (1 class economy)
- Practical ceiling: 18,300 m
- Flight range: 6470 km (full payload)
- 7,250 km (ferry)
- Maximum take-off weight: 187 t
- Cruising speed: 2 158 km / h
- Wingspan: 25.6 m
- Length 61.66 m (serial, prototypes were shorter)
- Height 12.2 m…